“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It is best stated by author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, that there is danger in a single story. The narrative by journalist Heather Knight published in the San Francisco Chronicle is a single story, and a story told by a tourist, not a community member, not an invested stakeholder, but a tourist who only surveyed the dynamic and unique landscape that is middle school. Aside from the visceral distress caused by the racist connotations that Knight and her publisher felt inclined to include in the article, the flat out frustration and infuriation felt by Aptos community members is that she failed to include any of the commentary that was shared by the twenty plus staff members who met with Knight. When queried, Knight assured the group that she would let the information and conversations guide her narrative, but it is overtly apparent that she entered into this story with a pre-established perspective and an already scripted narrative. The incidents described by Knight are oversimplified and peripheral at best, and unfortunately this story is speaking for a very large school community of a thousand students and families, and it is in inequitable to cast this single narrative on the entire community.
In our two hour staff session with Knight, we discussed a variety of topics about our school. We highlighted the places where we have seen struggles, but also the places where we have witnessed growth, inspiration, and community. It is not a novel idea that focusing on the dramatic and negative is far more appealing than focusing on the bright spots, or in this case even including the bright spots, as is seen in the absence of our words, our experiences, our narrative in Knight’s article.
For true transparency, during our staff gathering with Knight we confessed that we have had struggles. We also divulged that we have novice administrators and a very new support staff: a second-year principal and assistant principal, a year one assistant principal, as well as only one dean, and all three grade level counselors have been at Aptos for two years or less. We also have over a dozen teachers who are currently in their first year at Aptos. Any good business model, school development, or program implementation takes three to five years to see change, and we are firmly in year one. With that, comes the growing pains, lessons learned, and new insights on a stronger future. These are all things that were shared with Knight, and yet were absent from her story. What was presented in Knight’s narrative is that the staff is dismissive of the needs of our youth, that we have relinquished control to students, and conceded that this is just the way things will be. This is not only misconstrued, it is a fabrication.
In our conversation with Knight, we explored how some solutions to benefit our community are in fact time and money bound. These consisted of needs such as rectifying the inequitable number of support staff needed for such a large school community which includes an additional social worker, more onsite therapy, an extra counselor or dean to support our one thousand students. However, the conversation also included the dissemination of the practices that teachers successfully employ in their classrooms with their youth to reinforce the true reality; that our youth are cared for and valued in our community. Throughout the conversation we proceeded to report that a number of teachers and staff are trained to educate and support faculty in Restorative and Proactive Practices via professional development meetings and one-to-one check-ins; and that there are three of these planned for the remainder of the year. Our proud and unified group celebrated the work of our peers who continue to do the tireless work of educating, counseling, feeding, encouraging, and inspiring these amazing Aptos youth. Yet again, this narrative found its way to evade Knight’s narrative.
This narrative is not an aim to deride Knight as a journalist, but it is a charge as a proud and committed member of the Aptos community to start the process of weaving the true and, more importantly, the whole narrative of Aptos Middle School. It is my hope that my narrative will inspire my peers to engage in this conversation and share our Aptos narrative.
Instructional Reform Facilitator
Aptos Middle School